The Knack
October 18, 2018 2:49 PM   Subscribe

 
If M. John Harrison wrote copy for cereal packs, I'd probably buy cereal just for the packs.
posted by pipeski at 3:18 PM on October 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


"Nothing did what it was designed to do without some further persuasion, the application–the added value–of massively embedded and localised knowledge you didn’t have."

I feel much the same way about black box technology. If it doesn't plug and play, I have no hope of figuring out how to make it work.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:19 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


So if the need to have the knack to open cupboards and such went away, was it due to an improvement in design/manufacturing processes, or a knock-on from the social trends of democratisation/informality/removal of hierarchies (see also: the rise of jeans/T-shirts as acceptable attire, the decline of formal second-person pronouns in languages such as French, “The 60s”)? Did a cultural turning against formality and hierarchy force the hands of designers and engineers to prioritise making their goddamn mechanisms just work?
posted by acb at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's still like this. Nothing fucking works right. You have to have the knack of it. I begin to suspect that it's something inherent in the universe, that reproducibility and interchangeability are impossible dreams. There's always a knack.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:36 PM on October 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


Sharona fixed it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:36 PM on October 18, 2018 [21 favorites]


Carpenters, masons, tool and die makers, A & P mechanics, doctors (especially) - these all require years, decades even, of learning the knack of it. Plug and play rarely exists, even (and especially) with Linux. That’s most of the fun. A well hung door, square and even cabinet fronts and doors, true walls, airplanes that fly, correct diagnoses, and identifying, locating, compiling, and troubleshooting the required driver for that obscure older peripheral still used in the lab. All of these are a joy.
posted by sudogeek at 3:37 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


The article points to the fact that language, our first, ubiquitous, and most important invention, itself has a knack. So what hope is there for other, more peripheral things?
posted by memetoclast at 4:06 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


He is describing the experience of poverty. Rich people can have things that just work. Poor people deal with things that can be made to work, sort of.
posted by agentofselection at 4:06 PM on October 18, 2018 [48 favorites]


remove the knack from things and I fear we'd be removing the humans.
posted by philip-random at 4:06 PM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


Years ago I worked in a fab shop running a hydraulic shear and a threading machine. Both were antiquated pieces of equipment purchased second- or possibly third-hand that required constant adjusting. There was a procedure to follow for the most common adjustments, a discrete series of simple steps which I would follow rigorously and which rarely ever fixed the problem. So I’d call over my only coworker, LC, a burly guy in his 60s who would maybe say ten words to me a day, and five of those were invariably, “I gotta take a shit,” accompanied by a cigarette-bumming gesture.

LC would amble over, perform the EXACT SAME SERIES OF STEPS, and the shear would roar back to life. “Why is it,” I asked him,”that when I do that same thing, it don’t work?”

“You ain’t holdin’ your tongue right.”

I guess he had The Knack.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:17 PM on October 18, 2018 [48 favorites]


He is describing the experience of poverty. Rich people can have things that just work. Poor people deal with things that can be made to work, sort of.

Came here to say this.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


Doris Lessing wrote about the late forties/ early fifties in this way. She attributed it to the war and post-war austerity, actually - both economically and culturally.

But I think a lot of it is just that mass production really ramped up in the fifties and sixties and production techniques improved. I have a couple of pieces of early fifties modern furniture from small producers; the quality of the finishing is low and the way they're put together is extremely rough. If you think about the immediate post-war period, everything was either pre-war (and that might well mean pre-Crash), Depression production or brand new ramped-up post war purchases. In the UK, IIRC, there was a huge scramble to build houses and fix things, both because of damage due to war and the goals of Labor, and that scramble probably didn't always lead to a "measure twice cut once" mentality.

Also, austerity and war debt meant that everything was kind of crummy and all the good stuff was going for export, and everything had been on a war footing so a lot of small production processes were lost*.

*I read something about how during the war there was, like, one type of cheese - cheese production was centrally managed and making lots of kinds of cheese was inefficient. (I assume that there were minor exceptions to this just because life is complex, but still, the mere fact of having a War Cheese - !) And it took a while for the cheese-making industry to re-diversify after the war - the book I was reading said that it was really the late sixties/early seventies before prosperity and rebuilding got things back as they'd been.
posted by Frowner at 4:23 PM on October 18, 2018 [18 favorites]


Knick knack paddy wack, give the dog a bone...
A satisfied dog fixes many things.

Of course, in 1979, too many of us got The Knack (and many more just didn't get it). I'm just glad Weird Al got it. (My bologna has a first name... it's W-E-I-R-D.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:34 PM on October 18, 2018


run by instinct and by eye; they were run on, fucked up and then solved by the knack

philip-random: remove the knack from things and I fear we'd be removing the humans.

The knack does not come naturally to me, and I believe that the inanimate world has a malign spirit. The ability to see something, to grasp its workings, to form a plan to mess with the thing, the spirit of Fuck with me? No, I will fuck with YOU remains, for me, a profoundly human protest against the tyranny of objects. Adapt, improvise, overcome; fight, lose, fight another way, learn, prevail, get the knack.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:39 PM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this is still true, at least if that documentary I watched featuring the Boeing Dreamliner assembly plant in South Carolina is anything to go by.
posted by clawsoon at 5:07 PM on October 18, 2018


Here you go - a story about all the knack that had to go into building the Dreamliner, one of the most advanced things anybody has built recently:
Parts didn't fit together properly. Shims used to bridge small parts weren't attached correctly. Many aircraft had to have their tails extensively reworked.
Anyway, the OP's essay is a good corrective to the narratives about how well built things were in the old days.
posted by clawsoon at 5:14 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


I remember when I started a job in a lightly crappy warehouse in about 2011, where everything had a fucking knack to it. My first week was spent learning how not to die in the space, basically, and also how to prime a really cheap sump pump that was full of corrosive liquid and mud. By the time someone walked me through the multi-step process for how to close the bay door and align it for the lock and then adjust it again, I basically lost it at the universe. Knacks are frustrating.

Then again, a year or two later when we got our wholly crappy giant freeze dryer that sucked in every way imaginable, I was pretty good at just rolling with it.
posted by kalimac at 6:32 PM on October 18, 2018


Years ago I worked in a fab shop running a hydraulic shear and a threading machine. Both were antiquated pieces of equipment purchased second- or possibly third-hand that required constant adjusting.

Ok, old programmer storytime. Near as I remember, late 80's. Paradox for DOS was the 4GL for the project.

The project was at a coated abrasives factory ( sandpaper factory, which is neither sand nor paper ), as they were going through their ISO9000 certification so the QA department which hired us was moving the process of maintaining the product specifications to a database, and using that to produce the floppy disks that programmed the PLC. The idea being that it would eliminate variation.

And that would have been great EXCEPT for the organizational knowledge of all the workers on the line, who HAD THE KNACK for knowing which settings needed to be tweaked to get the best product. Eventually all that got captured and documented, and the Spec Database -> PLC thing worked as planned.
posted by mikelieman at 6:34 PM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I have no idea what that word means anymore it was used so much.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:40 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Les choses sont contre nous.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


and the Spec Database -> PLC thing worked as planned.

And those people were made redundant and laid off?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:01 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


And those people were made redundant and laid off?

I've done a lot of mergers and acquisitions, so I'm aware of that aspect. This time there weren't any headcount changes.

It really was "Leverage the ISO9000 work to clean up the QA file cabinets and make the whole process a lot more repeatable.". The savings were in better controlled processes, less waste, etc. Once we got the knowledge the production people had in their heads cycled back into the computer. ( "NO, STOP TWEAKING THAT, WE'VE FIXED THAT IN THE PROGRAM!!!!" )
posted by mikelieman at 7:30 PM on October 18, 2018


I love and respect Harrison, but really, is there any alternative? The world these days seems divided into those who expect nothing to work right and be in constant need of fixing, and those with permanently broken things. Every PC I've ever encountered has a half-dozen idiosyncratic knacks that the user has built up over the years -- Oh yeah, they say as I try to fix something else on their machine, that thing doesn't quite work right sometimes, you gotta click over here when it does that -- and those are the successful PC users. Every house I've ever lived in has been a congeries of jerry-rigging and patches, some done almost invisibly well, others very less so. Today it was trying to fix a door that clunks when closed, waking our sleep-training baby. I find the spot where the door first makes contact with the jam, get out some cardboard and tape to cushion it, notice a lump where the door is hitting, jimmy it off, and it's a calcified bit of cardboard and tape, painted over and over and dried to plaster, dating back somewhere between 40 and 100 years. The only non-knack is to think there's some alternative, that anything really just works; it's knacks all the way down. I suspect Harrison may realize that by finishing with his comparison to language.
posted by chortly at 8:32 PM on October 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


remove the knack from things and I fear we'd be removing the humans

I guess you could consider that sort of a knack-on effect.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:06 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


check out the millionaire over here with his cupboard doors
posted by um at 9:25 PM on October 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


i'm not sure that a lot of things are any different now, but attitudes have changed - people don't seem to have the patience to work through things to get the knack - where i work, we have 50 to 60 year old machines and a work force that just wants to push the start button and forget about it

those don't mix
posted by pyramid termite at 2:46 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Marketers knew this. It's why we ended up with IKEA and franchise food. It’s why all tools marketed to the home handyperson are disposable - because no one has been taught the knack of sharpening. It's why everything's made of particle board - because on one has the knack of flattening or making allowances for real wood.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:46 AM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


A more detailed article on Dreamliner and the Knack:
First of all, when the plant was established in 2011, experienced aviation workers from all over the country were hired, mainly to establish good standards and work as quality inspectors. Many of them were let go in the past few months. ...

To help the less-experienced workers in South Carolina, Boeing has had to rewrite the instruction manuals for each stage of assembly. Previous versions were, as the engineer said, riddled with errors, mostly because the experienced workers didn’t need word-for-word instructions; most machinists had a vast array of legacy knowledge.
In other words, the experienced machinists had the knack. Then Boeing fired the knack. I'm guessing that they don't teach MBAs about the knack.
posted by clawsoon at 3:59 AM on October 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


For the past two weeks, I've been trying to get what's supposed to be a plug-and-play Amazon Web Services app working. When I finally get it working, I will have some of the knack. I'll know in which order to restart recalcitrant services. I'll know which warnings I can plow on through and which lack-of-warnings means that something is wrong. I'll know things that I don't even know that I know, buttons that I avoid pressing without realizing what I'm not doing.

I despair at being able to pass the job off to someone else - which was the original plan - when I finally get it working.
posted by clawsoon at 4:10 AM on October 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


As a decade-plus e-commerce employee at a major retailer, I’d say that 90% of the value I bring to my job is in being one of the people with the knack. Not only in remembering where all the tweaks need to happen, but also in process improvement, because I remember why we started doing a tweak and what needs to occur in order to get rid of the tweak. Much of the time, the requirements for tweak removal are...considerable.

But over the years, we’ve gotten rid of a lot of tweaks. We have a pretty good process for capturing issues in the moment and documenting them to be addressed. Not all of them get addressed. I doubt there will ever be a time when there are no tweaks. But for the first several years of my employment, the upper management didn’t give a shit about our technology or tools, didn’t want to spend money on upgrades, and just expected us to be continually and increasingly profitable with outdated or obsolete equipment that made the job far more complicated than it had to be. It was a good day when those people were replaced, and new upper management came on board who understood that investing in our tools made us more profitable. It required a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars. Years of planned upgrades that still continue. But it’s paid off in much better efficiency and profit.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:12 AM on October 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


There is nothing wrong with the 'knack' in things that you are working on or even enjoying - those make it a thing you are able to love. What he's describing is, like some people have said because it's mostly an artifact of being poor, a 'knack' in everything. Guy was probably a kid in the 1950s, not a cabinet maker. He just wants a cookie, or a biscuit or whatever. Having to 'knack' everything is endlessly exhausting - like the physical labor equivalent to emotional labor.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:04 AM on October 19, 2018 [11 favorites]


This pertains obliquely:

In Lisa Margonelli's very fine termite book, Underbug, Kirstin Petersen, a roboticist working on programming robots to build like termites finds that she can just about do it if she has an experienced scientist standing by at all times ready to repair robots that have stopped working right. Eventually she discovers that all of her assumptions have been wrong and that the last ten years of work have been down the wrong path. Specifically, she finds out that termites have personalities, and that mostly a very few of them do all the work because the others aren't working right. Being a true scientist, Petersen gets all excited and happy and inspired. She says, approximately, that they had assumed that every termite had the same personality, and that this was stupid, because they knew from their everyday working experience that not even every robot has the same personality.

There we had people whose knack for fixing things obscured the fact that the situation they were trying to imitate was built so as to work while broken. The working termites had the other knack, the ability to make a broken situation work.
posted by ckridge at 7:25 AM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Autumnheart: It was a good day when those people were replaced, and new upper management came on board who understood that investing in our tools made us more profitable. It required a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars. Years of planned upgrades that still continue. But it’s paid off in much better efficiency and profit.

Half-baked theory: Getting rid of knack is very expensive, and it is only economically sensible when you're doing the same thing over and over again. As a result, it's usually only worthwhile when an idea has proven to generate lots of revenue over the long term. New ideas, ones that haven't proven that they'll be around for the long term, are thus inevitably full of knack.
posted by clawsoon at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am convinced that some people have a natural ability to intuitively understand how machinery works and how to fix it - they were born with the knack.

I envy these people - I am completely knackless.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:48 AM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


tallmiddleagedgeek: I am convinced that some people have a natural ability to intuitively understand how machinery works and how to fix it - they were born with the knack.

I'll argue for the nurture side of the knack: It helps if you're able to be a little helper, over a period of many years, alongside someone who has the knack. You get to see a lot of the knack in action.

It also helps if you learn to hate broken things and learn that if you only bang your head against them long enough and hard enough, you will eventually get the knack of them. A lot of knack is hard-won. It's about caring enough about the fact that you don't understand how something works that you'll stay up all night and all through the next day to figure it out, to get it working. Doing that requires the confidence that you will be able to get it figured out, and that confidence is often instilled by mentoring.
posted by clawsoon at 7:55 AM on October 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'll argue for the nurture side of the knack: It helps if you're able to be a little helper, over a period of many years, alongside someone who has the knack. You get to see a lot of the knack in action.

There's a lot to be said for the apprentice/journeyman/master model, and discussing how to reconcile that pattern with current economic realities would be a FPP, so I'll end here.
posted by mikelieman at 8:12 AM on October 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


A longer phrase for "the knack" is "physical intuition combined with user-discoverable mechanisms and interfaces." I'd replace "reliable" with "cheap and replaceable" in the article. The ability to grok physical things is hard to teach - at least once you're an adult - and some people have different skill sets that don't include it. (And, to be clear, a lot of them contribute far more value to the world than I ever will!) But, moving to software and black-box hardware has made the world fundamentally un-grokable in a way that's deeply frustrating for those of us with the knack. Nothing is reliable or ever has been. Now, we just have no hope of fixing it when it breaks, so we don't bother trying.

My kitchen faucet leaks if you don't set the handle in one of a very small number of specific angles. I could replace it. . . but, it does everything I need it to do, and I can spend those three hours (including the trip to the store) on metafilter instead. Some day it will break entirely, and I'll fix it, and I'll have saved a small amount of money and time. Until then, I show guests how to stop it from leaking. Most of them get it. A few become so frustrated I have to step in to help.

My kitchen microwave broke last year. All the parts I could recognize looked and tested fine. As far as I could tell, it was a single, very large and fancy computer chip that failed. (Or the connections to or inside the package.) In the entire time I've owned it, I've used the computer to do the job of a $1 mechanical timer and nothing else. The part didn't exist any more, and the effort required to replace it without a fancy rework station would have been exhausting anyway. So, I bought a new microwave. It made me miss microwaves with mechanical timers.

In nearly every way, the world today is better than it was the 50s. But, not this very particular one.
posted by eotvos at 8:39 AM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


mikelieman: There's a lot to be said for the apprentice/journeyman/master model, and discussing how to reconcile that pattern with current economic realities would be a FPP, so I'll end here.

It would make for an interesting discussion. You could go back to at least the early industrial revolution, when people who had the knack for wool or cotton were replaced by machines which could deal with fibre in a repeatable way. Or, from a different perspective, you might say that the hand spinners were replaced by people who had a knack for operating industrial machinery. Now, gradually, people with a knack for operating machines are being made redundant by people who build better machines. People who have a knack for operating machines get pushed aside by people who have a knack for building reliable machines.

Transportation is a similar story: Horses replaced by unreliable cars (which needed you to be a backyard mechanic), in turn replaced by reliable cars. I swear I read a story once about how a North American car maker - Ford, maybe? - did some contract work for a Japanese car maker - Toyota, maybe? - and the parts made by Ford just didn't fit right. It turned out, the story went, that Ford was making parts that were throughout the range of specified tolerances, while Toyota was making parts to fit much more precisely than their stated tolerances. Ford had a knack for making cars that required you to have a knack; Toyota had a knack for building reliable cars.

As someone who has had the knack, I'm not worried, though. We seem to have an endless ability to come up with new technologies that only work by dint of knack.
posted by clawsoon at 9:15 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Get a clue. Here are some clues:

If it was working, and now doesn't, it means some thing vital stopped. Usually, that is just one thing--find the single cause of the last failure and fix that to restore workingness.

Often, take-apart + clean-parts + reassemble is sufficient.

If it fails when you do dat, don't do dat.
posted by hexatron at 10:16 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Often, take-apart + clean-parts + reassemble is sufficient.

I had the exact problem with a faucet mentioned above and this is what fixed it. In retrospect, just tightening one nut would probably have worked.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:38 AM on October 19, 2018


When I was a kid, I had a wind-up alarm clock that had stopped working. I took it apart. Clock parts were everywhere! I put it back together as best I could, but there were half-a-dozen parts or so left over when I was done.

It worked perfectly for years after that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:03 PM on October 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


Often, take-apart + clean-parts + reassemble is sufficient.

Your confidence in my ability to reassemble stuff is truly touching
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:07 PM on October 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Your confidence in my ability to reassemble stuff is truly touching

The art of taking things apart in a fashion that makes it easy to remember how to put them together is another skill that a knack-having mentor can pass along to you.
posted by clawsoon at 1:45 PM on October 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Oh gosh this is so extremely relevant to both my personal and professional interests.

I initially thought the "he's just describing poverty" take was a little too simple, because it's not as though the factories and corporations people are describing are impoverished when they create weird idiosyncratic systems and machinery that only responds to a "knack."

There's a "knack" to basically every aspect of the project I'm working on. This is because when the project began, it was **ridiculously** understaffed. When you are trying to do an entire department's job with 2 people, you will of necessity come up with workarounds and shortcuts and systems that are less than optimally efficient but that are what two people can actually do. When neither of those people is a programmer, and a programmer is what you need. When neither of those people is a designer, and a designer is what you need. And so on, and so forth.

But then I realized it's still poverty, just an artificially enforced one. A poverty of giveashit.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:43 PM on October 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


(I also live in an incredibly ancient building where nothing works properly. You need the knack for unlocking certain doors or turning on certain light fixtures or getting the proper oven temperature. We do live here because we're broke, plus also cheap. But we also know a lot of much wealthier folks in much nicer houses who nonetheless require a knack for working their much newer ovens, doors, windows, and plumbing -- because sometimes the people doing the work had a poverty of giveashit. Sure, those folks are more likely than us to be able to afford repairs and replacements, but like...sometimes also your big fancy house is an irredeemable POS.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:47 PM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


James Burke's old BBC series "Connections" is sorta all about tracking the evolution of things. Some need less knack, some need more, some destroy old knack requiring new knack.
posted by Twang at 4:08 PM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Suddenly the modern obsession with simplicity, arguably to the point of eradicating the need for thought in day-to-day life, makes sense...
posted by TruthfulCalling at 1:53 PM on October 20, 2018


When we’re talking about building things, I think “knack” means “understanding things and making them work.” This is largely missing today, replaced by “build a pile of crap that kinda-sorta does eighty percent of what we want.” I am not happy with its absence, unlike the author of the referenced work.

When we’re talking about everyday stuff, I am not nostalgic for having to know how to get my carbureted car started on a twenty below day. Or coal. Coal was a lot less fun than you’d think. On the other hand, refrigerators lasted for thirty years (but no ice maker). Speaking of which, my wife and I went for a walk and someone had a Speedqueen wringer wash machine on the curb with a “free” sign. I don’t miss those either.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:04 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


And it took a while for the cheese-making industry to re-diversify after the war - the book I was reading said that it was really the late sixties/early seventies before prosperity and rebuilding got things back as they'd been.

This reminds me of the story of the gradual rediversification of beer manufacturing in the years since Prohibition. Some huge amount of knowledge—probably a lot of knack there, too—of how to make tasty and intriguing beers was lost as the manufacturers shut down, enough that it took until the end of the century for craft beer to once more become a thing.


I am convinced that some people have a natural ability to intuitively understand how machinery works and how to fix it - they were born with the knack.

Yep, I'm one of those people. I was born to parents who have the knack too. See also.
posted by limeonaire at 8:22 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I come from a family of knack-havers, and I'm totally Knackerless Knackleby. I probably have whatever the standard amount of mechanical aptitude an average person has. But when you're constantly surrounded by people for whom that sort of thing just comes naturally, and so they can't explain or articulate to you how it works, you grow up without any real sense of what "normal" ability is.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:05 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Knackerless Knackleby

I've read that book - by Edmund Wells, I believe.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:32 AM on October 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Reading this, I have to say that one thing that has always never worked is corporate meeting room functions. There's always at least 15 minutes dedicated to trying to show something on a screen and dial in all the participants into a group voice conference. This has been my experience working for 20 years. One time, we were at a pitch and we sat there for an hour while we watched our clients fumble and argue with their IT department and we eventually dialed in remote participants through 3 different iPhones set to speaker and they looked at the presentation through static PDFs because we couldn't get screenshare to work.

Doesn't matter if it's some piss poor start up or a multi-billion dollar global corporation. It's always a pain and nobody has the knack, not even IT.
posted by like_neon at 6:44 AM on October 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


My maternal grandfather, a product of the depression in farm country, had aspects of the knack as expressed in this article, born from habit and stubbornness. You sharpened lawnmower blades, jimmied doors, patched and jury-rigged and generally kept things working until they ended up in a shed to be scavenged for parts when something else broke. Things poor people do when buying another one or getting it serviced is wasteful/expensive/requires a fifty-mile drive.

My dad OTOH had the genuine knack; he could just sort of see how something was supposed to work. Following them both around in childhood made me a resolute tinkerer, and I'm one of those people who can sometimes just kinda look at something edgewise and it'll start working again.

Sadly this isn't really a marketable skill outside the trades any more.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:27 AM on October 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like old stuff better than new much of the time. And even new stuff breaks slightly. So my entire house is pretty much populated by things that require the knack. Hipcheck the door to the washer to make it close, use pods in the dishwasher because the dispenser broke, that drawer needs extra care because the repair was only so-so, that light switch requires a deft touch.

I can drive with a standard transmission, which requires the knack. I'm good at it, and it allows me to get out of jams sometimes, and the ability to get out of a jam means you get to go more places and take calculated risks. This is good.
posted by theora55 at 7:32 AM on October 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


aspersioncast: Sadly this isn't really a marketable skill outside the trades any more.

If you can translate the skill to computers, you will discover that it's very marketable.
posted by clawsoon at 12:00 PM on October 22, 2018


There's always at least 15 minutes dedicated to trying to show something on a screen and dial in all the participants into a group voice conference.

I blame presentation issues on a lack of R'ing TFM (if documentation is even easily accessible for the conferencing software - not a guarantee). Of course, if the act of even thinking of the existence of documentation is a Knack in itself, I will defer to your judgment... *sigh*
posted by pianoblack at 12:07 PM on October 22, 2018


If you can translate the skill to computers, you will discover that it's very marketable.

I can! AFAICT it's really not all that marketable if you're over 30 and haven't already worked in the field for years.

Like, I can potentially get a job doing A/V and tech support making less than I make as an academic librarian (which may have something to do with people in this very thread and their experiences with conference calling). I can do computer repair for someone like the Geek Squad and make even less. But IME the market isn't really willing to pay all that much for aging punks who like to tinker, regardless of all the bootcamp propaganda claiming the opposite. Not in DC anyway.

posted by aspersioncast at 3:33 PM on October 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


The FPP about this blog post just got deleted because the discussion wasn't going anywhere useful, but the blog post does, I think, have lots of illustrations of how you have to have The Knack to use an iPhone effectively.
posted by clawsoon at 9:51 AM on October 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


mikelieman: "And that would have been great EXCEPT for the organizational knowledge of all the workers on the line, who HAD THE KNACK for knowing which settings needed to be tweaked to get the best product. Eventually all that got captured and documented, and the Spec Database -> PLC thing worked as planned."

Oh, yes. I worked for a company that provided outsourcing services and by far the biggest challenge of any implementation was finding out all the info that only existed in the head of Bob, the guy who had been there for 30 years. Generally, we didn't find out everythgin until like six months after launch.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:27 PM on October 27, 2018


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